Welcome, to the world of tomorrow! Well. Actually, it’s the world of about a month ago. Specifically, my world about a month ago. But first, let’s go a little further back so I can introduce myself.
I have been an avid gamer all my life. I started with a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), as well as a GameBoy and multiple single-game hand-held consoles; migrating to a PC soon after. I can still remember buying my first gaming magazine (it had a review of Final Fantasy VII in it and a big concept picture of Cloud on the front). I was in an airport, heading off on a family holiday, so the magazine was supposed to keep me occupied during any down-time throughout the week; I’m mildly dyslexic, so I tended to read quite slowly.
Lo and behold (yes I do really talk like that), I finished the magazine on the flight. It was probably the fastest I’d ever read anything – and I absorbed everything from cover to cover. Since then, the Internet has been the place to go for gaming news – hence why you’re reading this post – and my morning routine now includes checking the latest gaming/tech news on Flipboard and, of course, on Power Up Gaming – usually before I’m even out of bed!
I’ve always dreamed of working in the industry, but with no formal computing, programming or design training, I didn’t know where to start; I suspect many of you are in the same boat. My problem has always been that if I’m passionate about something, I want to learn everything, which often leads to understanding nothing. When I began looking into the various aspects of game development, I decided I wanted to learn:
- Concept Art
- Environment Art
- Character Design
- Level Design
- Animation & Rigging
- Writing & Storytelling
- Sound Design
- Testing & QA
- Game Design as a whole
About the only thing that didn’t interest me was programming. No offence to any programmers out there, but as much as I love writing and have trained my thumbs to blur their way across my smartphone’s touch screen, I much prefer writing in prose than booleans.
If the above statement = true for you too, then I’m hoping this series of articles, essentially a diary of my initial experiences with all of the above, will be of interest to you and will help you to delve straight into the action, rather than spend weeks trawling your way around the Internet looking for the best way to actually get started.
So, with that long-winded introduction out of the way, let us begin where I began – the Internet.
We live in wondrous times, with information freely – and not so freely – available at our fingertips, from thousands of excellent – and not so excellent – sources. After reading a few “how to” guides for getting into the game industry and listening to a podcast or two, I came to the frustrating conclusion that even many of the biggest names in games couldn’t tell you how to get started, other than through knowing someone already in the industry or, just as reassuringly, through sheer blind luck. The industry is still relatively young and, of course, is changing, expanding and updating all of the time. Think of it like the film industry, but without so many talent spotters and considerably less botox.
Assuming you don’t have a four leafed clover in your hair, a rabbit’s foot around your neck and horse shoes on (and assuming you don’t happen to already know the CEO of Blizzard or one of Ubisoft’s design leads), you may have to start right at the bottom and work your way up. Even then, you may find climbing the corporate ladder trickier than you would like. In fact, it seems to be more like corporate snakes and ladders, with bigger studios suffering from huge staff turnovers and smaller studios suffering from lousy financial turnovers.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As a wise man (or possibly woman) once said: if you are passionate about something, you will make it happen – if you’re not, you will make excuses.
So I applied for internships at studios big and small, looked for courses I could take, discovered that almost no one in the industry offers apprenticeships and looked for any jobs that my current skill-set might apply to. Now as I said, I have no formal training in anything that might be of use (unless anyone is looking for a 2nd Degree Kickboxing Black Belt to consult on fight scenes) and am completely self-taught in respect of my graphic design, copywriting, website management, marketing, PR and social media skills. As a result, I got nothing. Barely even a response from any of them.
Since I wasn’t getting anywhere with the development studios and production houses themselves, I thought I’d try my hand with agencies – of which there are very few in the UK. This time, I struck gold!
As a result, four weeks ago, I started at “the bottom”, landing a job as a contract compliance tester. I admit it is not the most glamorous job at times, but we all have to start somewhere. As I sit here writing this and recalling what it was like today, I’m reminded of the infuriating nature of faulty debugging software, lousy network connections, bizarre bugs that take an age to write up in the database and let’s not forget the rather fetching red paper-clip that is currently keeping my glasses frame from falling apart… okay, that last one has nothing to do with my work, but it happened at work, so it contributed to my stress.
Having said all that, I am lucky to be on a team of fantastic and hilarious people, so despite my series of unfortunate events today resulting in a total of about three wasted hours throughout the course of the day – including some time spent looking for the smallest screw in the universe – I am having a great deal of fun. Being a games tester of any kind, whether that’s localisation (translations and cultural maintenance), compliance (ensuring games meet hardware standards) or functionality (helping make games work better and more fun to play), means getting involved with multiple aspects of game design and development. As an aspiring game designer, and someone who still can’t decide where to go next on my journey, it is certainly giving me a keen insight into the industry.
As a starting role, for those of you that can’t code like Neo, draw like Da Vinci or write like Shakespeare, I highly recommend it as a great way to get your foot in the door. And for those of you with a keen eye for detail, it could even be your dream job.
It also leads nicely into my first game industry service review… but I will save that for next time.
Until then – go and game… and comment. Always comment. – DJ